When electric cars were first released, they were seen as an innovative way to reduce carbon emissions. Now, there is a new era emerging: the era of hydrogen vehicles. However, this is just the horizon of this new era. But a new breakthrough that scientists have made may allow the sun to rise.
First, we need to understand why hydrogen vehicles have had setbacks. As said by SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, “ … a key step in that process, known as the oxygen evolution reaction or OER, has proven to be a bottleneck. Today it’s only about 75% efficient, and the precious metal catalysts used to accelerate the reaction, like platinum and iridium, are rare and expensive.
However, an international team of researchers led by scientists at Stanford University have developed a new way to create a moving hydrogen vehicle. They were able to use tools to hone in on specific nano-particles and use them as a catalyst by accelerating the oxygen molecules that were engineered inside fabricated electrochemical cells. They also hope to use this technology to improve other energy processes, such as batteries.
By using previous research, the scientists were able to figure out the specific moment in the process that keeps the particles from going too fast and losing efficiency.
“This suite of methods can tell us the where, what, and why of how these electrocatalytic materials work under realistic operating conditions,” said Tyler Mefford, a staff scientist with Stanford and the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES) at SLAC who led the research. “Now that we have outlined how to use this platform, the applications are extremely broad.”
The catalyst that the scientists studied was cobalt oxyhydroxide, which is a molecule is the shape of a hexagon, called nanoplatelets. The edges of the material were incredibly sharp and thin, allowing it to become an easy indicator of whether or not a reaction was taking place.
Patrick Unwin from the University of Warwick studied this catalyst around a decade ago for the same purpose. Now, Stanford researchers used electrochemical atomic force microscopy to get even more specific with the chemical changes that occurred. This allows them to get more accurate data, as well as learn which parts of the process need to be altered. With this method, we are making progress faster than ever towards a newer, better, more efficient hydrogen vehicle.